Afghan women’s suicides on rise amid desperate search for justice

Women’s rights in Afghanistan continue to be violated despite international efforts to intervene. A shocking number of women face domestic violence and abuse.

A growing number of women are committing suicide because of a lack of trust in the justice system – and with courts destroyed and judges killed, the situation shows little sign of improving.

It is a choice no mother should ever have to make – her children or her family. A 24-year-old Afghan woman’s husband has thrown her out, and her parents will only take her back if she abandons the children she had with him.“I’m feeling so alone. My husband hits me a lot. I’m sick, my daughter is sick, and my other two children are with him,” says the woman.

Her family was against the marriage from the beginning. The man was from another tribe, already married and taking drugs. But at the age of 14, desperate to be with him, the girl ran away and married the man. “My brothers want to kill me. I am very afraid of them. They say, ‘If you come back alone, we’ll accept you, but if you come with your children, we’ll kill all of you.’ I’m also afraid of my husband,” the woman says. She now hides in a shelter. Last year the human rights commission received 850 similar cases, but that is only in Kabul.

The commission says the justice system is falling far short of helping these women.“We have no women prosecutors and in most provinces, no women police or family courts. Whenever a woman is accused of something, there’s no one to help her,” says Parvir Rahimi from the “Women’s Development” human rights commission.

In one case, judges are hearing the story of a young girl who wants to break off her engagement – and telling her to go back.

In the next hearing, a husband wants to divorce his wife because she visited her parents for a week without his permission.“Women feel helpless and even in the rare situations when their cases get to court, they feel justice has not been served,” Parvir Rahimi says. “In the last six to seven years the problem of women burning themselves has grown, especially in Herat and Kandahar provinces. It’s a suicide because women feel they have no way out.”

Afghan court officials say they have enough to deal with – even before trying to help these women.

“A three-decade war has damaged the capacity of the afghan judicial system,” says Abdul-Salam Qazi Zeda, head of Appellate Court in Kabul. “We’ve had 15 judges killed across the country, many of our court buildings are destroyed, and we have problems with transportation and staff.”

In remote areas the problem is worse.

“Order and security help implement law. Order and security are better in urban areas. But unfortunately the villages are not ready to practice these kinds of law,” says Dr Abdul Malik Kamawi, General Chief Administer of Judiciary.

Many judges simply refuse to be posted in remote areas, complaining of bad salaries and even worse security.

“We need to pay higher salaries to the judges, so they can cope with the needs of daily life,” says Afghan Deputy Justice Minister, Dr Mohammad Qaasem Hashemzai. “We need to provide them with a place to stay, especially in the rural areas and the district areas. We need to provide the training of them and also reporting the cases which they decide so the public should know.” Often there is precious little the courts can do, especially in places where warlords and special allegiances are the law.